Gordon Freeman's character has been well received by critics and gamers, and various gaming websites often consider him to be one of the greatest video game characters of all time, including UGO and GameSpot.
Half-Life director Gabe Newell coined the name "Gordon Freeman" during a conversation with the game's writer Marc Laidlaw in his car. It included a homage to the physicist and philosopher Freeman Dyson. Newell disliked Laidlaw's proposed name, "Dyson Poincaré", which also included the surname of Henri Poincaré. The texture for Gordon's head was "too big of a job for just one person", so Valve designers combined references from four people. An earlier model of Gordon, known as "Ivan the Space Biker", had a full beard that was subsequently trimmed. Other iterations of Gordon's concept featured different glasses, a ponytail, and a helmet.
Gordon wears a special full-body hazmat suit, known as the Hazardous Environment Suit (or HEV Suit), during combat. The suit is designed to protect the user from radiation, energy discharges, and blunt trauma during the handling of hazardous materials. The suit's main feature is its "high-impact reactive armor", an electrically powered armor system that, when charged, absorbs two-thirds of the damage that Gordon would ordinarily suffer in Half Life and 80% in Half Life 2. A fully charged suit can survive several dozen hits from small arms and even one direct hit from an RPG. The suit can be charged by various means, and has its own oxygen supply and medical injectors, such as morphine and a neurotoxin antidote. It comes with a built-in flashlight, a radio, various tracking devices, a compass, and a Geiger counter. The suit contains an on-board computer system that constantly monitors the user's health and vital signs, and reacts to any changes in the user's condition. It also projects a heads-up display (HUD) which displays Gordon's health and suit charge level, remaining ammunition, and a crosshair. As a means of immersing the player in the role, Gordon never speaks, and there are no cutscenes or mission briefings—all action is viewed through Gordon's eyes, with the player retaining control of Gordon's actions at nearly all times. The images of Gordon are only seen on the game's cover and menu pages, and also in advertisements, making them marketing tools rather than pictures of what Gordon is "really like". Gabe Newell has stated that Valve sees no reason to give Gordon a voice.
In Half-Life, Gordon wears the Mark IV suit. Later in the game, the suit is equipped with an optional long-jump module so Gordon can leap great distances. It is charged using power modules throughout Black Mesa. In Half-Life 2 Gordon receives the upgraded Mark V suit, which lacks the long-jump module but gains several new abilities. It features a visual zooming capability, limited sprinting, an anti-venom injector, an optional ammo and health counter on the crosshair, and the capability to use Combine power nodes to charge the suit.
The Mark V initially used a single power source for the flashlight, sprinting, and oxygen supply; in Half-Life 2: Episode Two the flashlight was given a separate power source to improve gameplay. The symbol on Gordon's HEV suit is the lower case Greek letter Lambda, λ. This symbol is used by scientists to denote the decay constant of radioactive elements (related to the half-life of an element). As well as appearing on Gordon's suit, the symbol replaces the letter "a" in the game title (Hλlf-Life), and is the name of the complex in the Black Mesa Research Facility where teleportation experiments are conducted in the first game. The Lambda symbol is also seen in Half-Life 2 as a marking of the human resistance, seen close to hidden supplies and on the arm bands of better equipped resistance fighters.